NZealand PM says no apology to allies over scientist blunder

29th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

New Zealand's prime minister said Friday he saw no need to apologise to the country's military allies over a blunder that gave high-security clearance to a scientist who lived in a fantasy world.

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealanders were right to feel disappointed about the case of top defence scientist Stephen Wilce, whose false claims about his past included serving as a helicopter pilot with Prince Andrew.

Key said an official inquiry had found Wilce was unlikely to have posed a significant security risk during his five years at the head of the military's science agency.

He said the military had adopted more robust recruitment procedures and he saw no immediate need to apologise to key allies with whom New Zealand shares intelligence.

"We'll obviously review that in due course and see whether there's any reason, but at this point I wouldn't have thought so," Key told reporters early Friday while en route to the East Asia summit in Vietnam.

The report released Thursday downplayed Wilce's threat to national security but added he "may however present a risk to the reputation of New Zealand with its international and security partners".

Wilce quit as head of the Defence Technology Agency last month after it was revealed he falsely claimed to be an ex-Marine combat veteran and an Olympic bobsledder who raced against Jamaica's "Cool Runnings" team.

The report exposed the extent of his claims to incredulous colleagues after he embellished his resume to get the job, saying the British-born scientist had admitted to telling tall stories about himself since childhood.

It said Wilce claimed to be a helicopter pilot who served with Prince Andrew, a spy with British intelligence and a special forces soldier who was on an IRA death list.

Among numerous other fabrications, he also said he designed the guidance system for the Polaris missile system, was a member of the Welsh rugby union team, once had a career as a guitarist on the British folk music circuit.

When colleagues questioned some of his claims he used various excuses, including saying details were top secret and all reference to his activities had been "cleansed from the Internet", the report found.

Wilce stayed in the job for five years, overseeing 80 staff at the agency, which provides technological and scientific support to New Zealand's military.

Key said Wilce's resume was "technically correct" when he was recruited and he appeared to have displayed some skills in the role.

"The reality is that for quite a long time he (did) this job at defence and they didn't seem unhappy with him," he said.

"So maybe he's got some skills but coupled with those skills is incredible imagination and he has let that run away from him."

Defence launched an investigation into Wilce's past last July but he resigned before it was concluded when commercial broadcaster TV3 revealed some of his fanciful claims.

They included being a member of Britain's bobsleigh team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, where he supposedly competed against the Jamaican team which inspired the 1993 film "Cool Runnings".

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae said Thursday that the affair was "bloody embarrassing".

© 2010 AFP

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